A challenge in writing weekly helpful content for an audience of High Functioning Anxiety folks is it is hard to get past what I call the “shield of the Monger and the BFF.” Here is how the shield works: You read a self-help article let’s say it is about setting boundaries and your Monger says, “See you need to be better about setting boundaries, you are constantly letting people walk all over you.” And then when her message is too shaming and belittling your BFF steps in to say, “We are fine. It is hard to set boundaries, and you set one earlier this week with a co-worker–you don’t need to change anything.” And we breathe a sigh of relief and move on.
The Monger-BFF shield keeps us from making real changes. It is a defense mechanism that I see in myself and my clients. For many of us with HFA, we grew up in families that praised performance. Get an A—be the best—win the race—keep pushing—you can always do more. The reality of being human, making mistakes, being tired, feeling lazy, wasn’t discussed. It didn’t mean it wasn’t there; it just wasn’t addressed. We learned that those natural traits of being human, making mistakes, being tired, and lazy wasn’t ok and definitely weren’t something to share. So appearance became everything, making sure you looked ok on the outside was most important. Now often, when you hear appearance, we think of the stars of reality TV who have perfect makeup, perfect skin, and are perfectly skinny, but their lives are a mess. But I am talking about the appearance of being a success in whatever it is you value. Usually, whatever we learned as a child is valuable is what we relentlessly pursue as adults, e.g., being a success at work, being active in your community, being seen as smart, funny, productive, or in control of your emotions.
We learned early on that external praise decreased anxiety, so of course, to maximize praise, we become focused on our outward appearance. We became so good at maximizing our outward appearance; we rarely let anyone know how we feel, even ourselves. We have mastered the art of appearing confidant, together, and on top of it so well that we have a hard time letting our guard down, even to ourselves. The truth is, the only way to truly reduce the anxiety is to let go of this appearance driven life, turn inward, and get honest about what we see. One of the roadblocks to that turning inward is The Monger-BFF shield I describe above.
Our Monger and BFF hate change, they hate the unknown, they might use different messaging, but the goal is the same: to stop you from accessing your Biggest Fan and doing any real work. It is ironic, one of the traits of people with HFA is the desire to improve and the love of self-help. We read a lot of books; we listen to a lot of personal growth podcasts, and that is as far as it goes. We take in this information, we even teach it to others (raising my hand sheepishly), but in our own lives, our BFF and Monger work together to create a substantial defensive shield that prevents anything from changing. So they keep us skating around the surface, reading a lot of books, listening to lots of podcasts, and implementing nothing.
This pattern happened in my own life for years; I would teach all the things about being kind to myself, taking regular breaks, and getting into my body. I taught them, but I didn’t practice them. And if someone I loved called me out on this inconsistency (which was rare), my Monger and BFF (especially my BFF) would jump in to tell me how wrong they were, and I was FINE. I didn’t need to do those things; I WAS FINE. But I wasn’t.
I see it in my clients: a great example of this is when I first received my Daring Way Training, and I started getting clients who LOVED Brené Brown and wanted to work with me because I had been trained in her methodology. But what I quickly found is clients wanted to talk about Brené Brown’s philosophy; they wanted to share it and discuss it and compare stories but implementing it. Doing the work? Moving past the BFF-Monger shield, WEEEELLLLL, not so much.
Recognizing this tendency and noticing how the pattern works is essential and hard. Because we have been taught to value appearance so much, our BFFs and Mongers protect us from any criticism/doubt/change.
So what can you do? Start paying attention to this phenomenon in your life. Do you notice times when you are performing even when there is no one to perform for?
Here’s a simple example:
I make a mistake. I pulled the car in the garage and didn’t look and hit my husband’s bicycle. It was an accident, but it was a mistake. Immediately I think ok just own you made a mistake; it is ok, mistakes happen. And then the Monger-BFF shield comes down, and they go back and forth. “You are such an idiot. Why weren’t you looking?” says the Monger and then the BFF. “Well, if your husband hadn’t parked his bike right there, it is so close to your spot. He is so messy and just puts his junk everywhere!’ As I walk into the house, I feel better, my BFF has justified my ways. I still feel anxious when I think about hitting the bike but my Monger and BFF keep me in the same worn path of self-protection. I replay the car hitting the bike story and share it with friends, careful to shift the blame to my messy unable to throw anything away husband.
Option 2: I get out of the car and see the damage, and my Monger starts talking: “You are such an idiot. Why weren’t you looking?” says the Monger, and I stop her take a deep breath and say. “Yep, look at that, I made a mistake, I wasn’t looking, and I hit the bike. UGH! That is so annoying; I hate making mistakes and messing up. It is so hard.” Every time my Monger steps in to say you are an idiot for hitting the bike. I say to myself, “Yep, I made a mistake. It doesn’t make me an idiot; it just makes me human.” The next time I pull into the garage, I make sure to slow down, look around, and take my time.
In option 2, I was able to bypass the Monger-BFF shield and get to my Biggest Fan, who is grounded. She is kind and generous and quick to say, yep, mistakes happen, no matter how well-intentioned you are stuff happens. The Monger-BFF shield keeps us trapped in defensiveness, anxiety, and doubt. No matter how much we read, listen, or watch until we recognize our childhood programming of keeping up appearances and start giving ourselves genuine kindness for being human, we will stay trapped.